There’s no need to look abroad to find labor wage violations and sweatshops—the U.S. has its own worker rights issues to address.
At a press conference Wednesday, the United States Department of Labor said of the 77 investigations it conducted at garment contractors in Southern California, 85 percent of them were in violation of federal law and that workers are owed at least $1.3 million in back wages, Southern California Public Radio (SCPR) reported.
Those contractors were mostly making apparel for off-price retailers like Ross and T.J. Maxx, though in some cases they were making product for higher end stores like Nordstrom.
Wage violations aren’t new, but officials are saying the rate of violations is at a record-high.
“Enough is enough,” SCPR reported Ruben J. Rosalez, regional administrator for the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour division, as saying. “After 29 years with this agency, it really saddens me that the industry has gotten worse, the underground economy has gotten worse, and sweatshops still exist in America.”
The biggest problem the Labor Department uncovered was failure to pay the minimum wage and not paying overtime. Because a large portion of the garment sector workforce in Southern California is comprised of immigrants who often speak little or no English, many aren’t aware of their rights and retailers don’t seem to be saying anything as they try to keep their low costs intact.
There’s nothing in place to monitor this behavior in the supply chain, and though some retailers have been made aware of the violations, few have done anything to change it.
“We need the retailers to come to the table to help us,” SCPR reported Rosalez as saying. “We need them to take that next step and actually have a full monitoring program and work with us.”
The California Fashion Association reportedly questioned the Labor Department’s methodology, saying that the retailers called out were specifically targeted because of earlier offenses, but said nonetheless that there’s no excuse for retailers not to do better at making sure their goods come from factories where workers are treated fairly.